Work The Apotheosis of Hercules
Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century
Prints and Drawings
The quality of this drawing, a strikingly bold ceiling design filled with human and animal figures, is exceptional. It is a study for Le Brun's first large commission, the decorations at the Hôtel Lambert, and it reveals ambitions as a decorator that were later to be fulfilled at Versailles.
A prestigious commission
The Hôtel Lambert, which stands on the tip of the Ile St. Louis in Paris, was built between 1641 and 1644 by the architect Louis Le Vau for Jean-Baptiste Lambert de Thorigny, royal counselor and secretary. On the latter's death in 1644, the building went to his brother Nicolas Lambert de Thorigny, who undertook major interior decorations. He commissioned Eustache Le Sueur, then at the peak of his glory, to decorate the Cabinet de l'Amour, and Le Brun to decorate the gallery on the second floor. Dating the painting of the gallery is problematic. Le Brun started work on the project in 1650, shortly after his return from Italy. The decoration continued intermittently over twelve years or so, as it was interrupted by the renovation of Vaux le Vicomte.
The deification of Hercules
This study for The Apotheosis of Hercules, destined for the far end of the gallery's semi-circular vaulted ceiling, belongs to a series of preparatory studies for the cycle of paintings illustrating the Legend of Hercules. The exact theme of the composition is given in the description accompanying a set of plates engraved in 1718 by B. Picard and M. Pool, depicting the entire decoration: "Hercules, when his mortal remains have been burnt on a pyre, rises to heaven to join the Gods. He is in a chariot driven by Minerva or Wisdom, preceded by Renown, and crowned by Glory". Hercules emerges from the clouds, upright in his chariot, facing left; the four neighing horses are driven by Minerva, wearing a breastplate and helmet. Sketched lines suggest other flying characters nearby.
A master of composition
This accomplished drawing shows Italian influences, especially in the use of optical illusions; it makes the vault look higher than it really is. The illusionism of a "di sotto in su" perspective is total and did not reach such perfection again until the ceiling decoration for the Ambassadors' Staircase in Versailles. In this drawing, Le Brun gives an early demonstration of his love for horses in action and a talent for animal painting that was confirmed in his later career. The animals seem to be galloping over the clouds and about to leap over the balustrade. The sweeping use of wash gives the drawing a painterly look which makes it one of the most accomplished and spectacular of the large collection of Le Brun drawings in the Louvre.
BibliographyR. Bacou, La collection Saint-Morys : XCe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, novembre 1987 - février 1988, notice 119.
L. Beauvais, Musée du Louvre. Département des Arts graphiques. Inventaire général des dessins, école française, Charles Le Brun 1619 - 1690. Tome I. Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000, notice 5.
L. Beauvais, in Dessins français du XVIIe siècle : LXXXIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, octobre 1984 - janvier 1985, notice 137.
Dessins français du XVIIe siècle : Artistes contemporains de Poussin : XXVe exposition du Cabinet des Dessins, cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, mai - septembre 1960, notice 68.
J. Montagu, Charles Le Brun 1619-1690 peintre et dessinateur, cat. exp. Versailles, Château de Versailles, juillet - octobre 1963, notice 73.
M. Sérullaz, Dessins du Louvre, Ecole Française, Paris, 1968, notice 32.
En savoir plus
J.-P. Babelon et al., Le Cabinet de l'Amour de l'hôtel Lambert. Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées natioanux, 1972. Les dossiers du département des peintures n 3.
Charles Le Brun (Paris, 1619-90)
The Apotheosis of Hercules
Black chalk, pen and brown ink, heightened with brown wash, red chalk wash and white, on beige-tinted paper, squared with black chalk.
H. 32.7 cm; W. 45.9 cm
Crozat collection; sale, Paris, 1741; J.-D. Lempereur collection; sale 1773; Saint-Morys collection; confiscation of émigré property, 1793; entered the Louvre in 1796-97
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